Will a new era open?
These Greeks are hopeless. They just cannot learn. Population-wise Istanbul might be bigger than the whole of Greece, yet it is just a city. Still, it took almost three months and a rerun election for those at the helm of power in Turkey to concede electoral defeat and hand over the city to an opposition candidate. Incumbent leftwing Syriza party leader and outgoing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras calling Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the leader of the center-right New Democracy Party, and conceding defeat while the vote-counting was still continuing, was amateurish. He, and other like-minded Greek politicians, must be taken to a crash course on power politics, if not democracy.
Jokes aside, Sunday’s elections in Greece have opened a new page not only for Turkey’s western neighbor but also regional politics and most probably in Turkish-Greek relations, as well as the Cyprus quagmire.
In this new period ahead, the New Democracy government of Greece, as pledged by Mitsotakis at the election rallies, will be talking very much like the Golden Dawn – badly defeated in Sunday’s vote as well – regarding migration as well as on “national” issues, headed by the Cyprus and Turkish-Greek outstanding hotspots. One reason the New Democracy staged such a landmark victory – an unprecedented event since the early 2000s – was the ability of Mitsotakis to gear the party towards the center-right on most issues but to use a far-right or even an ultra-conservative tone regarding the Macedonia name dispute or the hydrocarbon policies and undertakings of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots.
With the Golden Dawn politically exhausted, the spectacular comeback of New Democracy lies in the success in siphoning off votes from the ultra-right by taking a tough anti-refugee stance and hardline foreign policy rhetoric, which will most likely rehash the old Turcophobia strategies to consolidate the newfound electoral base of his party.
Long before Greek citizens were queuing at the voting polls Sunday, there were reports in both Greek Cypriot and international media that once the 51-year-old Mitsotakis is sworn-in as premier, international mediators would speed up efforts to resume the Cyprus talks process from the point they collapsed at the Swiss winter resort town Crans Montana in June 2017. Ankara as well as the current center-right National Unity Party (UBP) and People’s Party (HP) coalition government have been stressing half a century of a federal Cyprus settlement efforts ended at Crans Montana in failure and now “new ideas” must be discussed. Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Anastasiades has reportedly agreed to an almost one-year-old call by Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı to resume talks on a set of principles verbally put forward in 2017 by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres just moments before the process collapsed.
Turkish Cypriot conservatives opposed right away and Ankara is believed to have been against Guterres’ ideas. Why? Because even if the Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders have different interpretations of what they actually are, Guterres’ ideas are believed to include a call for the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus and an end to the 1960 guarantee system under which Turkey intervened on the island in 1974 to save Turkish Cypriots from total annihilation by Greek Cypriots.
Greek Cypriots already have been telling the U.N., EU and other diplomats wishing to see a resumption of talks on Cyprus that without Turkey stopping its hydrocarbon activities off Cyprus there could be no talks. Would staunch support from a New Democracy-led Athens help the Anastasiades administration achieve such a goal which indeed would mean hitting two birds with one stone: Getting rid of Turkey from the waters it claims it has full sovereign rights alone and to compel Ankara to support resumption of federation-targeted talks and step back from its two-year position that they were dead and buried.
With the Turkish economy passing through very dire straits and the country in need of some success stories, could Turkey walk an extra mile in Cyprus? Or can it turn on Athens and repeat its former call that for a Cyprus deal new ideas, including two states in EU, must be discussed.
It appears Turkey will opt for the second option. But will a Mitsotakis government be bold enough to walk an extra mile towards a bitter compromise on Cyprus and in Turkish-Greek relations.